All posts by Catherine Ashe

About Catherine Ashe

I am a mother to 3 - 2 beautiful daughters and a very special boy. Besides my 24/7 mothering gig, I am an emergency veterinarian. I love what I do - both of my jobs. My husband teaches online for Western Governor's University, a non-profit college. Our son, James, died at 5 months and 1 day from complications related to his trisomy 18 - a devastating chromosomal disease. In his short life, he taught us a great deal about who we are as people and who we would like to be. We hope to continue his legacy by helping others in ways both big and small.

Silent scream

You might have interacted with me today – maybe brought your pet to see me, have her yearly check-up, get her vaccines, or have me check that little lump that popped up on her leg. You might have chatted with me, sharing small bits of the day or an interesting article you read in the paper. You wouldn’t have seen me as I really am. You would have seen the smiling, friendly Dr Ashe. The professional. The veterinarian.

At night, I set an alarm to remind me to go to sleep at 10:30pm. I’ve always been a night owl, but I’ve realized that the late nights and groggy mornings aren’t good for my Circadian rhythm and health. So I’ve been setting an alarm and getting up early, sometime between 6:15 and 8am.

And every night, like clockwork, I fall asleep easily, and then wake around midnight. My chest feels tight, and my heart flutters frantically in my chest, like a butterfly, trapped in cupped hands. I get up. Go to the bathroom. Pace. Do grounding exercises. Five things I can see. Four things I can touch. Three things I can hear. Two things I can smell. One thing I can taste.

And what do I taste? The bitterness of loss. The tang of grief that never leaves my mouth.

What do  I feel? The shock – over and over again – that it is still me. I am still Catherine. I am still here even though my son is not. My son died. That horrific thing that I feared from the moment my first pregnancy test was positive in 2010, that thing happened to me.

At night, alone, I am not Dr Ashe, the veterinarian, working mother of 3. I am a lost soul, wandering my silent house. Nothing has healed. No wounds have closed. My son is still gone, and that fact hits me in the face every single morning when I open my eyes. I still have moments where I flash back to his bedside, to the hours leading up to his death. I have moments where I question every decision – what if, what if, what if.

A year ago, my grief was a black boulder that was crushing me. I could feel it on top of me, suffocating me. Now, it has dispersed into a dark cloud from which rain constantly falls. Every feeling is damp from the constant rain. There are no “good” days anymore. There are okay days – the days when I am patient with the girls, find it in me to play games with them, let them help me cook.  When I don’t yell or lose my temper. Those are the okay days. We won’t talk about the bad days.

I think some people believe I’m “doing better” – that I’m ok. Maybe they think that because I’m working again, or because I seem to be “strong” or have it together all the time. None of it’s true. It’s a very thin veneer on top of the real me – the me that is very much still bleeding, still fighting the quicksand just to stay in place and keep from sinking.

At a year, it feels like grief goes underground – that it must, by some necessity. Other griefs have come along for those I know and love, and mine must sink into the background. It hasn’t for me. It is still my every waking moment. Don’t be fooled by Dr Ashe. She is an excellent actress.

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Present

If you’d ask me what I thought about the “mindfulness” movement a few years ago, I am sure I would have rolled my eyes. I roll my eyes at many things. I’m a skeptic and a cynic with a dash of fatalist thrown in as well. Mindfulness sounded to me like something I would lump in with homeopathy and aromatherapy…woo.

As I grow older, and since my son died, I have realized that life is terribly, tragically brief.  I am stumbling through it, on the same path that many of us are on, the path of consumption, the path of mindlessness, the path of constant entertainment, something to fill the mind so that it doesn’t have time to learn to be empty. To be present.

We are a noisy culture. We don’t like mindfulness. We don’t like blank time. We are always going, busy, frantic, texting, messaging, buying, endlessly filling our homes with items that we’re convinced we need to be happy. We stare at our phones endlessly, even when we are with other people whose company we enjoy. We always have one foot in the present and one foot heading out the door to something else. Living in the moment, being present in our surroundings and with our surroundings and with those people surrounding us – it’s not something at which we excel. And we’re getting worse.

I never really thought much about this (which is precisely the problem). I was never taught mindfulness – not by my family, not in school – nowhere was mindfulness ever talked about. Instead, I learned to self-soothe with unhealthy foods. I learned to take the easy route instead of the difficult route. I never considered that I should be mindful of my body, what it could do, and how I should care for it. I never thought about what I put into it or how I treated it. Like most of us, I lose hours at night on social media, staring at Facebook. The night ends with me asking myself what I’ve accomplished. Or if not even accomplished, then what I did in the last few hours that nourished me in some way, shape, or form. The answer is often nothing. We live mindless lives.

Grief is the ultimate exercise in mindfulness. In that tiny silence between heartbeats, in that pause, grief makes itself known. True grief cannot be willed away simply by ignoring it or burying yourself in activity. True grief causes a shift in your perception of the world and your place in it. True grief illuminates the long-neglected corners of our minds. True grief must be seen, heard, and felt. There is no ignoring it or wishing it away. Stuffing it down only leads to grief leaking out, like a corrosive acid, into other aspects of our lives. Grief has been the most illusive teacher in my life. To love greatly, you must be willing to suffer greatly. It is against our nature to choose to allow the suffering, and so again, we turn from mindfulness into mindlessness.

Being mindful takes effort – enormous effort. It takes recognizing the frantic pace of our lives and the often almost inexplicable sadness, the emptiness, that accompanies it. I have never learned to be mindful, to be present, but I am trying now. And while I learn it, I have to teach it to my children somehow.

I need to build sanctuary – both within and without. The modern world makes this difficult. When did social media become such an integral part of my daily existence? More importantly, why? We lack the village anymore, but rather than build one, we make one on-line, further disconnecting ourselves from meaningful human interaction.

It doesn’t seem like it should be hard, does it? And yet, being present, in the moment, and thinking about our decisions is the hardest thing that I’ve ever done. Why am I eating this? Does this nourish me? Why am I buying this? Do I need it or does it fulfill some desire to think of something – anything – other than my aching sadness for my son? Why am I checking my phone for the 10th time this hour? Do I really think I’ve missed something that vital – or again, am I chasing mindlessness?  These questions are becoming increasingly easy to answer as I grow and stretch in the agony of grief. These are not muscles that I’ve ever used before, and like any muscles, they must be warmed up, they must be toned, and the doing of such is painful. But is IS worth doing.

 

“Opening”

All day, I’ve thought about what I would write. One year ago, I lived through every parents’ worst nightmare. I’m still alive. He still isn’t. I’ve been reliving those days, sifting through the big box under my bed. It’s full of cards and trinkets and mementos of his life.   I’ve been watching videos of him and looking at pictures.

The strangest questions have come to mind. Who put our children to bed the night he died? I don’t remember. Did I sleep through the night or did I wake and stare at him, there in his crib next to us? Who put away our Christmas tree? I don’t remember it being there, the morning we woke up for his visitation, but neither do I remember putting it away. It was there on New Year’s Eve, as I can see it in the pictures. Did I eat anything that night? Did Jim? What time did I wake up that next morning? Did I remember when I woke up that he was dead, or did I already know?

This first year has passed in a blur of time. I’ve tried to honor my son, and I’ve tried to honor my grief. Lately though, I feel as if I’ve been hiding from it more and more. Submerging myself in activity, sometimes mindless and frantic. When I do this, I find my grief coming out in unexpected ways – in whiplashes of emotion towards strangers, towards my children, and towards Jim. In this year, I’ve learned that grief will not be ignored. Grief must be felt, must be experienced, and must be lived through. There’s no “keeping busy” until it goes away. True grief never goes away.

As a culture, we don’t want to make room for the hard feelings. We want to believe that life is mostly happy with moments of sadness. Instead, James has shown me that love and grief are two sides of the same coin. Grief is woven into the tapestry of our lives. We will all love, and we will all lose, and we will all grieve. Someone told me something very wise – a mantra for each day, if you will. “Life is hard, but not today.” Except today, today is hard. But it’s not quite as hard as one year ago.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about our decisions for James – the decision to have the tracheostomy, that we didn’t pursue heart surgery as he grew stronger and bigger, of all the little things that we had to decide on a daily basis. It occurred to me that I’ve only really considered that we made a mistake. I haven’t really allowed myself to consider that there was no mistake to be made, that we could only make a decision for him out of love and care. I have to remind myself that he wasn’t just cruising along and doing great before we took him off the ventilator. He was oxygen dependent. He was fed through a tube. He was on 13 medications just to keep his heart from failing. His heart needed major surgical repair that he might or might not have survived. It could go either way.

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For us, it was worth it – the sleepless nights, the endless alarms, the constant low grade terror of losing him. We would have kept him with us forever. But for him…well, we couldn’t ask him. So we did the best we could. And we loved him. We love him still. We will love him for always.

When my cousin drowned at just shy of 2 years of age, I remember telling my grandfather that in his short life, my cousin knew more love than many children ever experience. Some children live short, brutal lives of neglect and abuse and never know a mother’s loving embrace. My cousin was loved. He is still loved. James was loved, and he will always be loved. The quantity of his life paled in comparison to the quality of his five months.

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I think, someday, that I will be able to be really believe that we did our best and that we didn’t fail him. I’m not there yet, but I’m starting to think that I could be. I’ve allowed myself to think of names for this baby. I still fear trying to live with the wild love for a newborn nestled against the bleeding of my broken heart and my yearning for James. In fact, I’m terrified. How does one grieve like this and parent a newborn? I can barely parent the children I already have at the moment, truth be told. But that is a thought for another day.

I’ve been trying to think of how to sum up James’s life -how I remember him and his time here. Today, my best friend sent me a gift. She captured so perfectly my son’s essence. She titled it “Opening.” I see the burning of the rocket, leaving earth, reaching towards the sky, straining, the quaking and tremoring, the shock of the ride – all noise and commotion and wild exhilaration, and then, bursting through the opening into the perfect silence of space, entering into that holy vacuum. Where we all arise, and where we will all return. That was my son’s life.

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Unhealed wounds

Let’s talk about conceiving after the death of your child.

At this point, a year from his death, the world has returned to its rhythms. A year seems so terribly long ago to those not grieving. My grief isn’t something I wear like a badge on my sleeve. It’s invisible. If I go to the store, the cashier doesn’t look at my face and see “bereaved mother” stamped there. To the external world, to those that don’t know me, I look like everyone else.

Even to those who know me, a year is a long time. Surely, the grief is beginning to abate? Surely now, the good days at least equal the bad? Surely, there are moments of joy?

And yet, all that really exists is the slow swimming towards consciousness each morning, my soul like a lead weight, trying to pull me back towards sleep – because to wake is to face the demon that haunts my days. To wake is to acknowledge that here I am, forced to do it all over again … and again … and again.

To wake is to re-enter the world, to push myself out into that macrocosm of humanity, to smile, to move my limbs, to pretend that I am normal. And yet, every moment of normalcy, every thing that reminds me of the Before, once that ends, the rush of sorrow, of loss, of missing, rushes back in again, and I am leveled. I can’t be normal. I can only pretend.

My whole being cries out for my son. I see pictures, and I am aghast that it has been nearly a year since I held him, since he was warm and alive. There is no salve to soothe this pain.

In the midst of this, to find out that life is growing anew within me – unplanned, unprepared for, completely unexpected – what words can capture those emotions? I had grown accustomed to the idea, somewhat, of being a mother to three, one no longer living. And here now, this life within me, a beloved intruder in what was once the sacred home of my son.

To have to tell others this news – when I have known for 5 weeks, have seen that tiny, furious hummingbird heart on the ultrasound, the small life that has sprung up in this season of drought – it has plagued me. How to tell people? How to accept the smiles, the congratulations, the well-meaning joy of others – when there is no joy within me?

This baby is not a balm to my fragmented soul. I grieve, every second of every day, and to see the excitement in others causes a sting of pain. My James is gone, and he cannot be replaced. I am not magically happier, more contented, less grief-stricken, for this life growing within me.

I want to believe that I can feel joy again. I want to believe that when I see this baby’s face, I will smile and weep happy tears. But I fear that I will feel nothing. I sometimes think that James’s departure was also the departure of my joy.

To face it all again, the fatigue, the diabetes, a likely c-section at 39 weeks, and all the other slings and arrows of pregnancy, fills me with dread.

And yet, I haven’t explained it all. There is so much more that I cannot even find the words. Always before, as soon as I knew, as soon as that second line popped up, I shared the news with everyone in my life. Not because I was naive enough to think that nothing bad could ever happen, but because I love life, and I celebrate it, whenever it begins or ends. This time, I have waited, far longer than before, to make the news public. Not for fear of “something happening,” but because I cower before the glowing smiles and warm excitement of well-meaning friends and family.

Yet, I know that there is beauty in pain. It is a harsh, stark beauty, and one that I would gratefully return to the giver, if I had the choice. I do not have that choice, and I can’t refuse to see it. I know there will be beauty here too, when I am ready.

I’m just not ready. All I can see now are two bright blue eyes, a thatch of wild-brown hair, rosebud lips, small clenched hands, and rolls of elbow fat. How I miss him. Nothing can undo his loss. Nothing can fill this abyss of sadness. These wounds have not healed. No child can anneal the edges for me. And to tell others is to let them believe that, for a moment, I might be happy again. And how could this be?

 

Happy holidays.

Today wasn’t all merriment and festivity. It was a hard day. It was our first Christmas without James. It’s funny to think that I had 36 Christmases without him and only one with him, and it makes such a difference. But such is life. The time someone is with us has no bearing on how much or little we miss them. He was here but five months, and yet, he changed our lives forever. He is with us forever.

My sweet daughters, of their own accord, picked out gifts for him. Both are intended to grace his grave. My eldest chose hers at the “Reindeer Shop” at school, without any guidance. My middle went with her daddy to select a (beautiful) remembrance.

We spent the day at home. Daddy made breakfast for his girls. I built a fire and lazed near it. We opened stockings and presents. In the emotional days leading up to Christmas, I completely blanked on the need to have a meal plan for Christmas Day. I had no turkey, no stuffing, no nothing.

Feeling blank and bereft and empty, after the presents, I lay down for a long winter’s nap. Jim patiently put together more than 1,000 Legos with Evaline and Hazel. When I woke up, he had made homemade chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, green beans, and salad. It was better than any previous Christmas meal I’ve ever had. He saved Christmas dinner.

Now I sit here and stare into the fire, and I miss my sweet son. I try not to question our decisions for him. I try to remember that everything we did, we did because we loved him unconditionally. But it’s so hard. It’s hard to see other trisomy 18 babies going on, celebrating Christmas with their families. Why not us? Why not him? It’s hard to be normal, when, less than a year ago, I held my son while he died. There are certain scars that never heal.

Every moment, I miss him. I am always aware of his absence, even when I am not directly thinking about him. I hope one day, this wound will start to heal, but it hasn’t yet. And so I am grateful for, if nothing else, that this holiday has been a quiet one.KJJEwUNCS9CMTeJ2hRwUzgfullsizeoutput_180fUJt74X6ESAWAjojxFLGpaQCbnpLYc5SIijZMhHkgDXpw%HBQEm4eQqCMeahjfc2UagGTyQ3CFNRnaJbWIaraKYnwfullsizeoutput_1809

The beginning of the end.

It has begun – a mental countdown to the day my son took his last breath in my arms. It’s replay time! Time to replay every decision leading up to his death, was it right, was it wrong, was there even a right or a wrong? Does it matter now? The decision is made. His life has ended. Monday morning quarterbacking changes nothing.

I want to believe that some day, I’m going to feel better. Someday, I am going to wake up, and there won’t be a tremendous weight on my chest. I’ll be able to draw a deep breath. I’ll be able to laugh again – to really, really laugh. I’ll look forward to the holidays again rather than just hoping and praying that I’ll wake up tomorrow, and it will be January 15 or so. Right now, it feels like the days before me are endless. It doesn’t matter how many there are – one day or 6,000 – it seems like an eternity.

It’s weird to be so isolated from most of the rest of the world. I look at other mothers, and I think that surely, they must get it. They must understand, deep down, what it is like to lose a child. Surely. In their deepest, blackest nightmares, surely they dreamed of this terror? In their moments of worst anxiety, didn’t they picture what it must feel like to never hold your baby again? To never breathe in that baby smell? To never hear that tiny voice? To never touch those tiny fingers?

And then I remember that even though they might have imagined it, might have let themselves into that dark pit of despair for just a moment, that it was precisely that – a moment. And then the mind, always protecting itself, pulls a curtain over that vision, shrouding it in mystery – for it is a mystery, this kind of drowning, numbing, horrible grief – to those who haven’t suffered it.

Can I just be honest for a second and tell it like it is?

We are never going back to who we were before this happened. We are never going to be “better.” We are never going to “move on.” Yes. Our lives will move forwards. Nature’s imperative insists that we must. We cannot stay frozen in time. And yet, we have seen something that most people haven’t (not yet) – the truth behind this curtain of life. We have seen that life is fragile, delicate, a flickering candle flame that can be snuffed out without a moment’s notice. We understand in a way that others don’t, that this life is not guaranteed to any of us. None of us are golden. None of us are special or protected.

Once those things are seen, they cannot be unseen. The mundane, the frivolous, the petty, now they only serve to anger us, because we can’t see how people spend their time worrying about them. We are mystified by how the world just continues on around us, how relationships that always frustrated us aren’t magically fixed by this loss. We feel guilty sometimes for our grief, and we (foolishly) put others’ needs before our own when we are floundering in a sea of sadness.

So, I am going to be real with you right now.

Most of us in deep grief don’t enjoy or look forward to the holidays. We muddle through them as best we can, fulfilling obligations where we can, hoping against hope that we will wake up and magically, it will be the middle of January, all the while, knowing it won’t.  We will be like this for a long, long time. Many years, I suspect, will pass me by before I can find joy in this time of year again.

Don’t give us platitudes. Don’t tell us to be grateful for the children that we do have and to find joy in the season for them. We try. And when we fail, that failure creeps into our core and sticks there. Don’t be offended if we turn down invitations to parties or family gatherings. And if we do show up, don’t avoid the topic of our loss. If you ask us how we are doing, then be prepared to really hear how we are doing. It’s not likely to be cheerful, and I guarantee that it will be hard and there will likely be tears. But there are worse things in life than tears.

If we slip away from the gathering, don’t be offended and don’t come look for us. At this time of year, amidst all of the merciless cheeriness, we are nursing wounds that the holidays re-open. Give us space. Even hold space for us. Don’t try to fix us. Don’t ask if we’re still seeing a counselor, if we’re still on an anti-depressant, if we’ve read this book or that book. You can’t fix us. There is no fix for this pain. Just be there with us, acknowledge our loss, and let us be.

You can say things like “I cry for James too” or “I miss him too.” Or “I’m sorry. I know how hard this time of year must be. What can I do?” Better yet – don’t ask. Just do. Show up, take my kids for the day, let me nap, let me cry, let me break Goodwill plates with a baseball bat. Cook me dinner. And if you’re reading this and you only know me vaguely, then do it for someone in your life that is struggling – with grief, with loss, with illness, with postpartum depression, with loneliness. I have found that one way to temporarily leave this hellish pit is to help someone else. It’s only a temporary reprieve, but it’s one way that James lives on and that I keep his gifts in my heart.

With that, I will leave you. My thoughts, as always, unfiltered and uncensored, for the most part.

 

Why there is no Christmas letter this year.

I tried to write a Christmas letter. But Christmas letters are supposed to be happy, full of cheer and glowing reports of the year gone by.

What glowing thing can I say about the year in which my son died? That I’m still here? That I didn’t die with him? That there have been moments of happiness that almost, almost captivated me, before the swell of sorrow dragged me back down?

No, this isn’t the year for a Christmas letter, warm and cheerful. This is the year for hiding in my house, inhabiting my grief, stretching and limbering up the muscles of grief, because this isn’t a weight that I was ready to carry.

That’s the thing about grief in our society. We aren’t taught that it is love’s twin. We aren’t taught that they are two sides of the same coin – one impossibly bright and the other impossibly dark. We will all grieve. If we live, if we engage, if we love, then we will grieve. If you haven’t felt grief, real grief, that soul-etching, paralyzing, suffocating sorrow for the loss of someone you love, then hold tight, because you will. None of us are exempt.

Our society is so swept up in feeling good, in keeping busy, in going and doing, that we abhor grief. We actively shun it. And truthfully, who doesn’t? No one wants to feel like this, day after day, week after week, month after month. But just because we don’t want to feel that way doesn’t mean we can stop it when it happens. Grief must be inhabited. Grief must be seen, heard, felt. If it is not, then it festers inside of us. Society would have us “feel better” – take antidepressants, seek a way to “cure” our sadness. There is no cure for grief. Grief is as a part of our life as love is, should we let it in.

We must all learn to make room for it in our lives. And it’s work. It’s tremendous work to acknowledge those feelings and to bear them. It takes practice. Like anything, you aren’t born knowing how to deal with the complexities of grief. You must learn. You must train yourself. Society doesn’t teach us this. Society teaches us to run from our grief, hide from our grief, busy ourselves so that we are distracted. And it’s damaging.

I think I’ve been running from my grief, as of late. I’m trying to hide from the sorrow of our loss. I think I’ve been hiding from the pain of being a year away from the last time I held my sweet baby, alive in my arms. But in hiding, I only feel worse. The rage, the sadness, the sorrow, the loss – when they aren’t acknowledged, when I’m not with my grief, they come spilling out in other ways – ways that are not healthy.

For the past two days, I’ve been trying to be with my grief – by sitting, deliberately reading about the grieving process, and letting the sorrow flow over me. It’s scary. It’s painful. Who wants to succumb to the power of this kind of sadness? There have been times that I thought “if I let myself start crying, I will never stop.” It would seem irrational, but it’s a very real fear. Once the well of sorrow has been opened, sorrow flows over you like a river, and it often feels like drowning.

It takes great bravery to face your grief head-on, to fully inhabit that space, to allow it to drag you down. And every time that it has dragged me down, I have come up again, if even only for a little while.

I keep coming up. I keep breathing. I keep putting one foot in front of the other. Watching the world, guarding my heart, trying to extend compassion – to myself and to others. But I’m tired. I won’t lie. Grief is exhausting. It’s an almost physical weight that I bear every single day and will for the rest of my life. Sometimes, just the thought of all the days I have left to go overwhelms me, and I want to lie down and sleep forever. But I keep going. One foot. One foot. One foot.

One foot.

Small good deed

If you’re looking for a small good deed to do this Christmas, contributing to our James’s Rainbow PICU bags is an easy way to help out a family.

Every month, on or around the anniversary of our son’s death (January 2), we take bags to the pediatric ICU at Mission. They contain small toiletries, snack foods, decks of cards, and a variety of other items that parents in the PICU can use. They are very popular and we have received lots of nice emails from appreciative parents.

Currently, we are very much in need of toiletries (travel sized shampoo, toothpaste, soaps, deodorant, etc).

If you would like to buy and send an item, you can go to our Amazon wishlist here:

http://a.co/c3rzynM

You can send as much or as little as you like.
Thanks so much, friends. We appreciate it!

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Past midnight again.

I’m here, awake with my ghosts. The ghost of what was. The ghost of what is no more. The ghost of what could have been. I’m haunted.

On the best days, the most coherent days, I still cannot believe that my actual worst nightmare came to pass. The thing I feared more than anything else, the thing that I thought I could never stand – that thing? It happened. One of my beloved children died.

I think of the time of before. That’s how life is now. Before and After. Before, I was innocent of the way that life can shift in the span of one phone call, and how that shift can never, ever be undone. My entire world is off-kilter.

January 2 marks one year since he died. But our grief began seven months before that, when we heard the news of his diagnosis. For 18 months, I have been living in an alternate reality. Everything is darker here. The light shines so blindingly bright some days, but that only makes the shadows blacker. I see everything too crisply. I have to shut my eyes sometimes. My innocence is gone.

And yet, I’m still here. I didn’t die with my son. I don’t know how. I don’t know how I stood it. I don’t know how I stand it still.

Nightmares. I have them often. Half-remembered dark dreams, lurking shapes just at the corner of my vision, dreaming of being pregnant with twins, only to lose one. Was that you, James?

Lately, I want to be alone. I feel myself drawing inward. I’m isolating myself. I don’t want invest to my love, my emotions, into those that will only go away. And that is everything. Everything fades.

This is depression, perhaps. Or it is the depression phase of grief. Who knows?

As with all things in grief, this will ebb slowly, flowing away from me, until I find my footing again. And then, when I find my footing, I will be washed away once more without warning. It’s the nature of grief.

Innocent sleep

Tonight, both of my living children are in bed with us. They sleep the deep sleep of the innocent – arms flung wide to the world, rosebud lips parted, hair mussed, eyes twitching as they dream childish dreams. I lie beside them and stare at the black windows, the vague shapes of skeletal trees outside. Sleep doesn’t come easily, and when it does, it flees just as quickly.

One year ago today, I held my son alive and warm. It was a peaceful and solitary sort of day. The kids were gone with their father to Tennessee to visit, and I stayed behind with James. I ate leftover Thanksgiving food, read a book, and snuggled with my James on the couch. It was an endless day in some ways, and I believed that it could last forever – that maybe it would last forever. Time hung suspended in the golden light of fall.

And now, here we are, one year later. He is gone. It didn’t last forever.

Once, I thought of death as the loved one receding from us, an ocean of sorrow carrying them away. Now I realize that’s wrong. The loved one is static. They are on the shore, and the river carries us on without them. They are receding, receding, receding away from us. James is always frozen there, at 5 months old. He will never change, never grow older. The river keeps carrying me along. On the bank, he stays, and he becomes smaller and smaller.  I feel like I’m floating through my life these days, just on the surface really, afraid to go any deeper. My heart cannot stand any more loss.

It’s hard to keep moving when your loved one does not. It’s hard to accept that you can’t freeze time, freeze the river, and spend one more moment with them. It’s hard to realize that here we are, a year later, and so much as changed, and so much continues to change.

For a moment today, I glimpsed happiness again. It was an ordinary sort of day. I spent it mostly alone. It wasn’t a bad kind of solitary. I didn’t slump into my grief and stay in bed. I was out, in the world, moving around, interacting. Sometimes I think I need to be reminded that the world still exists outside of my sorrow. And sometimes I think that the reminder is too painful. Why should the world still exist when mine has crumbled?

Today, I went out into that ever-onward world. And when I came home, for a second, my mind was clear, almost weightless. For a split second, I wasn’t really thinking about anything. Then grief draped itself around my shoulders again. Wrapped its arms around me in an embrace that I’ve come to know intimately. And I realized that nothing would ever be weightless again. True, unshadowed joy can never be mine again. Every joy will come with the knowledge that something – someone – is missing.

And still, yes, still, I count my blessings. I can bear both grief and gratitude at the same time. I am grateful that I knew him. I am grateful that he was mine. I am grateful that we were holding him when he died and that we brought him here, to his home, his only home, to say goodbye to him. There are so many things for which I am thankful, and it makes the grief maybe a little less heavy on some days.

But I miss him so terribly, and I always will. His DNA is woven into mine, and for that, I am grateful. I will always carry him with me.

Happy Thanksgiving, sweet baby boy.

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